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Ten dead and 15 injured after van runs down Toronto pedestrians, but police doubt terrorism

One witness said the driver, who has been arrested, appeared to deliberately target people

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 2:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 1:36pm

Ten people are dead and 15 injured after a white rental van ploughed through a busy Toronto sidewalk on Monday afternoon, as large crowds of office workers were on lunch break, police said. 

Officials suggested the incident was unrelated to terrorism, and it was not known what motivated the driver to steer his vehicle toward people just before 1.30pm. The driver was arrested nearby.

Speaking at a news conference Monday night, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders raised the initial death toll of nine to 10, saying another victim had died at a hospital. He said 15 others were hospitalised.

Saunders identified the man detained after the incident as Alek Minassian, 25, a resident of the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill. He said the suspect had not been known to police previously.

Asked if there was any evidence of a link to terrorism, the chief said: “Based on what we have there’s nothing that has it to compromise the national security at this time.”

A senior national government official said authorities had not turned over the investigation to the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a sign that investigators believed it unlikely terrorism was the motive. The official agreed to reveal that information only if not quoted by name.

“This is going to be a complex investigation,” Toronto’s deputy police chief Peter Yuen told reporters.

A video of the moments before the arrest appears to show the driver repeatedly miming pulling a gun on an advancing police officer, but it is unclear if the man was actually armed with a gun.

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At least one witness described the driver as appearing to deliberately target victims on his roughly 1.6km rampage.

Five people remained in critical condition at Sunnybrook Health Services Centre on Monday afternoon, the hospital said.

Ryder System Inc spokeswoman Claudia Panfil confirmed that one of the company’s rental vehicles had been involved and said the company was cooperating with authorities.

“It’s unprecedented,” said John Flengas, acting superintendent in the city’s paramedic services. We’ve never seen anything like this in the city of Toronto.”

A man who gave his name as Ali told CNN that he saw the van and that the driver appeared to have been targeting people.

“This person was intentionally doing this, he was killing everybody,” the man said. “He kept going, he kept going. People were getting hit, one after another.”

He said a number of the victims were older people, and at one point he saw a stroller fly into the air.

At least one person was struck outside on the sidewalk outside an Anglican church, north of where the van came to rest in front of a currency exchange in a condominium tower.

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There have been a string of deadly vehicle attacks in the United States and Europe, including an October 31 attack in New York that killed eight. Islamic State militant group encourages its supporters to use vehicles for attacks.

Police shut down the intersection of Yonge and Finch streets after the pedestrians were struck, and Toronto’s transit agency suspended service on the subway line running through the area.

The deadly incident happened about 30 km from downtown, where the Group of Seven foreign ministers of industrialised nations, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and US, were meeting on Monday. There was no noticeable change in security around the Intercontinental Hotel where the ministers gathered.  

Yonge Street is large, divided boulevard at the point where the incident occurred, its centre meridian dotted with planter boxes and sculptures.

Some of the victims were struck in a public square popular with office workers on lunch breaks. Aerial photos of the scene posted on social media showed a food truck parked just a few feet away from where emergency workers busily transferred people onto stretchers.